Telegram, the messaging app, has become the latest company to file a formal antitrust complaint to the EU over Apple’s App Store. In a complaint to EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager, Telegram, which has more than 400 million users, said Apple must “allow users to have the opportunity of downloading software outside of the App Store.” Allowing applications from outside the App Store is the bare minimum of what our governments must mandate from Apple (and other platform makers with similar restrictions). I will go several steps further: all software and firmware on devices shipping to consumers must be open source. No exceptions. To function in a modern western society, computers – smartphone, desktop, laptop – are required. They have become a hugely important pillar of our society, and yet, our devices are controlled not by society or our governments, but by large corporations who don’t have to answer to anyone. This is unacceptable. Access to vital parts of our society are getting more and more restricted to computers, and this means we should have the right to control them, so we can prevent people being locked out because of opaque App Store rules or foreign government interference. If all these devices are open – open source, down to the firmware – we will never be locked out by anyone. Imagine having to file your taxes, but for some reason Apple decided to not approve the latest update to the government app you’re supposed to use and remove it from the App Store. Is that the future we should want?
During Wednesday’s congressional antitrust hearing, the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook used their opening statements to try and paint themselves—and their companies—as uniquely American success stories with humble origins, heart-warming anecdotes, and impactful lessons for the American people. While these CEOs talked a lot about America and its possibilities, and how their companies and even personal histories embody it, it is undeniable that their actions are undermining what they claim to celebrate. It was sad display.
Facebook is suing EU antitrust regulators for seeking information beyond what is necessary, including highly personal details, for their investigations into the company’s data and marketplace, the U.S. social media group said on Monday. ⁂
Slack says it has filed an anti-competitive complaint against Microsoft with the European Commission. “The complaint details Microsoft’s illegal and anti-competitive practice of abusing its market dominance to extinguish competition in breach of European Union competition law,” says Slack in a statement. Slack alleges that Microsoft has “illegally tied” its Microsoft Teams product to Office and is “force installing it for millions, blocking its removal, and hiding the true cost to enterprise customers.” “Microsoft is reverting to past behavior,” claims David Schellhase, general counsel at Slack. “They created a weak, copycat product and tied it to their dominant Office product, force installing it and blocking its removal, a carbon copy of their illegal behavior during the ‘browser wars.’ Slack is asking the European Commission to take swift action to ensure Microsoft cannot continue to illegally leverage its power from one market to another by bundling or tying products.” It’s what platform vendors do. Google, Apple, Microsoft – they all do this, and it only serves to hurt consumers and competition.
The highest court in Europe has struck down the EU-US Privacy Shield over concerns that the agreement leaves the data of European customers too exposed to US government surveillance. The agreement, which has been in place since 2016, allows companies operating in the EU to transfer data back to the US and over 5,000 companies currently operate under its terms. Good news, of course, but while the focus is often on the US and China, we shouldn’t forget that European countries are also quite, quite adept at mass surveillance.
The EU has enacted new regulations to protect developers operating in the App Store and Play Store from Apple and Google (let’s be real here – that’s who this is aimed at). Platforms will have to provide 30 days notice to publishers before removing content from stores, allowing them time to appeal or make changes to their software. So no immediate and opaque bans (article 4). The regulations (in article 5) will force stores to be more transparent in how their ranking systems work, letting publishers understand how ‘trending’ apps are being chosen for instance. Article 7 follows similar themes, with storefronts having to disclose any ‘differentiated treatment’ it may give one seller of goods over another, which should put paid to any real (or imagined) preferential treatment for larger publishers – or at least make it clear to everyone how and when the playing field isn’t even. The rules also demand access to third party mediation in case of disputes. This seems like a set of reasonable rules that should’ve been in place ages ago.
Microsoft and Zoom have said they will not process data requests made by the Hong Kong authorities while they take stock of a new security law. They follow Facebook, Google, Twitter and the chat app Telegram, which had already announced similar “pauses” in compliance over the past two days. China passed the law on 30 June, criminalising acts that support independence, making it easier to punish protesters. This feels more like a “let’s get some good press in the west while we resume normal operation in aiding the genocidal Chinese regime when people stop caring” than a real principled stand, but with how everybody just rolls over for China, I’ll take any element of resistance – no matter how weak sauce – I can get. It doesn’t get much weaker than “pausing”, though. Apple says it is “assessing” the rules. Oh turns out I was wrong. It does get weaker.
Twitter, Reddit, and Internet Association filed an amicus brief late yesterday in support of a lawsuit filed last year by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP on behalf of plaintiffs Doc Society and International Documentary Association, challenging rules that require nearly all visa applicants to register their social media handles with the U.S. government and connected policies permitting the retention and dissemination of that information. The brief argues that the social media registration requirement and connected policies “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and harm the First Amendment rights of their users, particularly those who use pseudonymous handles to discuss political, controversial, or otherwise sensitive issues on the platforms. This has bad idea written all over it, but that has never stopped any government from implementing tech-related policy. This won’t be an issue for average joes around the world – many western countries have visa-free travel to the US anyway through things like the ESTA program – but it will be for people from repressive regimes.
The European Commission has announced plans for new “right to repair” rules that it hopes will cover phones, tablets, and laptops by 2021. If successful, these rules will mean these devices should remain useful for longer before needing to be recycled or ending up in landfills. The plans were introduced as part of a wide-ranging set of product initiatives that also cover textiles, plastics, packaging, and food with the aim of helping the trading bloc become climate neutral by 2050. As well as introducing new “right to repair” rules, the EU also wants products to be more sustainably designed in the first place. Under the new plan, products should be more durable, reusable, upgradeable, and constructed out of more recycled materials. The EU’s hope is to reward manufacturers that achieve these goals. Finally, the EU is also considering introducing a new scheme to let consumers more easily sell or return old phones, tablets, and chargers. Good. One of the most important aspects of these rules is that the EU wants to force companies to provide spare parts to third party repair shops, which is something that’s entirely normal in, for instance, the car industry, but so far hasn’t been implemented in the technology sector yet because tech companies are special because reasons. EU-wide right-to-repair legislation will force companies like Apple and Samsung to take device longevity and repairability seriously, and these benefits will spill over to other parts of the world, such as the US, Canada, and maybe even the UK.
On Tuesday, Sonos sued Google in two federal court systems, seeking financial damages and a ban on the sale of Google’s speakers, smartphones and laptops in the United States. Sonos accused Google of infringing on five of its patents, including technology that lets wireless speakers connect and synchronize with one another. Sonos’s complaints go beyond patents and Google. Its legal action is the culmination of years of growing dependence on both Google and Amazon, which then used their leverage to squeeze the smaller company, Sonos executives said. “Google has been blatantly and knowingly copying our patented technology,” Mr. Spence said in a statement. “Despite our repeated and extensive efforts over the last few years, Google has not shown any willingness to work with us on a mutually beneficial solution. We’re left with no choice but to litigate.” Sonos executives said they decided to sue only Google because they couldn’t risk battling two tech giants in court at once. Yet Mr. Spence and congressional staff members have discussed him soon testifying to the House antitrust subcommittee about his company’s issues with them. I’ve said it many times before – companies like Google and Amazon have simply become too large, too powerful, and too invulnerable, and this is simply yet another example in a long string of examples. Break them up.
iFixit details Apple’s copyright lawsuit against Corellium: Despite a lack of apparent interest in enforcing their copyright to iOS software, in this specific case Apple has decided to exert control over iOS. And they’ve crossed a red line by invoking the most notorious statute in the US copyright act, section 1201. This is the very law that made it illegal for farmers to work on their tractors and for you to fix your refrigerator. It’s the same law that we’ve been whacking away at for years, getting exemptions from the US Copyright Office for fixing, jailbreaking, and performing security research on everything from smartwatches to automobiles. Enter Apple with the latest terrible, awful, no-good application of 1201. Apple claims that in making virtual iPhones for security and development use, Corellium is engaged in “unlawful trafficking of a product used to circumvent security measures in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 1201.” In other words: Corellium sells a way to use iOS that works around the way Apple intended it to work. Apple knows that you can’t use Corellium’s software to create your own knock-off iPhone. But they can claim that Corellium’s software is illegal, and they might technically be right. That’s terrifying. I hope the lawsuit ends with a loss for Apple, but I wouldn’t bet on it,
Google has told its Turkish business partners it will not be able to work with them on new Android phones to be released in Turkey, after the Turkish competition board ruled that changes Google made to its contracts were not acceptable. Totalitarian governments are increasingly using their subjects’ smartphones as tools for exerting their totalitarian control. Don’t be surprised if the Turkish government will soon mandate Turkish-made software on smartphones sold in the country, just like Russia mandated not too long ago.
Ars Technica reports: The Supreme Court has agreed to review one of the decade’s most significant software copyright decisions: last year’s ruling by an appeals court that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights when Google created an independent implementation of the Java programming language. The 2018 ruling by the Federal Circuit appeals court “will upend the longstanding expectation of software developers that they are free to use existing software interfaces to build new computer programs,” Google wrote in its January petition to the Supreme Court. In a sane world, this idiotic ruling would be overturned and Larry Ellison cries in his huge pile of money. Sadly, this world is far from sane, so this could really go either way.
The U.S. government has launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly, according to two people familiar with the matter. While the $1 billion acquisition was completed two years ago, U.S. lawmakers have been calling in recent weeks for a national security probe into TikTok, concerned the Chinese company may be censoring politically sensitive content, and raising questions about how it stores personal data. TikTok – Wikipedia link for those of us who have no idea what it is – is incredibly popular among younger people, but since it’s an entirely Chinese platform, there’s concerns about what, exactly, the data it stores is being used for.
Household appliances will become easier to repair thanks to new standards being adopted across the European Union. From 2021, firms will have to make appliances longer-lasting, and they will have to supply spare parts for machines for up to 10 years. The rules apply to lighting, washing machines, dishwashers and fridges. Decent start, but we still have a long road ahead of us on this issue.
The Internet is forever, we tell social media users: be careful what you put online, because you can’t ever take it back off. And while that’s gospel for US users, there’s some nuance to that dictum across the Atlantic. In Europe, individuals have a right to be forgotten and can request that information about themselves be taken down—but only, a court has now ruled, within Europe. The Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU’s highest court, issued a ruling today finding that there is no obligation under EU law for a search service to carry out a valid European de-listing request globally. I think this is a logical, common-sense ruling. I’m not entirely sure what to make of the right to be forgotten, since I can see valid uses for it, but it’s also very open to abuse, and one has to wonder just how effective it really is.
Japan’s Fair Trade Commission is investigating Apple Inc over its pressure on Japanese parts makers and whether it abused its power in violation of antimonopoly rules, the Mainichi newspaper reported on Tuesday. The investigation is the latest by the country’s regulators against the tech giant after they found last year that the company may have breached antitrust rules on the way it sold its iPhones in Japan. Apple illegally pressuring smaller companies into doing its bidding? Surely such is preposterous.
Companies that embed Facebook’s “Like” button on their websites must seek users’ consent to transfer their personal data to the U.S. social network, in line with the bloc’s data privacy laws, Europe’s top court said on Monday. According to the European Court of Justice ruling, a site that embeds the Facebook “like” icon and link on its pages also sends user data to the US web giant. Hopefully this will lead to the systematic removal of Facebook buttons from websites that serve the EU. Facebook’s buttons are trackers, and should be treated as such.
Remember the deal Apple made with Amazon that killed all third party repair services and used Apple product sellers that aren’t specifically approved by Apple, thereby increasing prices for consumers sharply? Turns out the FTC isn’t too happy with this deal. Last year, Amazon cut a deal with Apple to bring direct iPhone sales to its platform for the first time. Now, that deal is coming under scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, The Verge has learned. Good. This deal is about as clear cut an example of monopolistic, anticompetitive behaviour as you can possibly get
British, American and other intelligence agencies from English-speaking countries have concluded a two-day meeting in London amid calls for spies and police officers to be given special, backdoor access to WhatsApp and other encrypted communications. GCHQ, the UK agency which monitors and breaks into communications, has suggested that Silicon Valley companies could develop technology that would silently add a police officer or intelligence agent to conversations or group chats. The moment these fascists turn the backdoor into a legal requirement and manage to steer it through their respective legislitave bodies – by calling it the If You Do Not Support This You Are A Pedophile Act or whatever – the game is pretty much over. The technology companies will roll over and implement these backdoors overnight – just look at how happily technology companies work with the Chinese government. In fact, Facebook is already testing a backdoor in this style today: To solve this problem, Facebook announced earlier this year preliminary results from its efforts to move a global mass surveillance infrastructure directly onto users’ devices where it can bypass the protections of end-to-end encryption. In Facebook’s vision, the actual end-to-end encryption client itself such as WhatsApp will include embedded content moderation and blacklist filtering algorithms. These algorithms will be continually updated from a central cloud service, but will run locally on the user’s device, scanning each cleartext message before it is sent and each encrypted message after it is decrypted. This is going to happen, and it’s going to be a disaster.